The newest section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam, the synthesis essay, is one of three essays you will be completing during the examination’s 2-hour free-response period. However, you’ll also have a 15-minute reading and planning period just for this essay, and if you use this time to plan effectively, you can’t go wrong.
Before we get into specific advice on how to handle the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay, you need to know what this part of the test really is. It is very similar to the argumentative essay you will also write as part of this exam, except that you are provided with a wealth of source material from which to draw some support for your ideas.
While this in some ways makes the AP English Language and Composition synthesis essay easier than the argument essay (because you can use quotations, point to authoritative sources for support, etc.), there is an extra element of complexity, and the AP readers want to see how well you can sort through your source material and put it to good use – which makes planning all that much more important. This brings us to our first tip…
1. Use Your 15-Minute Planning Period Wisely.
The main purpose of this 15-minute period is to give you time to read the source materials. This essay will present you with several sources providing different information about or opinions on a certain topic. Make sure you don’t just skim them, but read them closely – make notes, underline key sections you may want to quote later, etc.
You should also begin outlining your essay and considering your opinion on the subject; have this opinion in mind before you start writing the essay, as you will use it to construct your thesis.
You’ve already learned how to structure persuasive essays in this class and in other classes you have taken; put that knowledge to good use now, and have your main points set out before you start writing. Try to have a thesis statement written by the time you start the essay – your thesis should establish your opinion and the general reasons you feel this way; the rest of your essay will go on to justify and exemplify these reasons. Also write down some of the main points upon which you will base subsequent paragraphs and mark quotes or sections of the sources you can use in each of these paragraphs.
2. Evaluate Your Sources.
Every source you can use for the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay will have a small box above it explaining where it comes from and who said it – to see exactly what this looks like, check out the free synthesis essay sample questions at AP Central. There are also public sample questions available there for the rest of the AP English and Composition Exam.
Keep all information about your sources in mind when you’re quoting them or using them to support your arguments. What journal an article appeared in can say a great deal about its potential biases. For example, consider a question on the environmental impacts of corporate practices – an environmental journal is obviously going to be biased in favor of more environmental regulation, while a report from a company spokesperson will probably gloss over some of the negative impacts of his company. Think critically.
3. Keep Your Tone Consistent.
There is no hard-and-fast advice about what tone you should take – some students try to inject a little humor into their essays while others prefer to be as serious as possible, some are extremely critical and others more accepting. However, the one thing you really have to do while writing the AP Language and Composition synthesis essay (or any other essay) is keep your tone consistent. Jot some tone-related ideas down as you outline during the 15-minute reading period, and keep in mind everything you’ve learned about tone and other aspects of rhetoric so far this year.
4. Use Rhetorical Technique to Your Advantage!
The various rhetorical practices you’ve been learning about all year can be put to good use here. This class and this test aren’t just about recognizing and analyzing these techniques when others use them, but about preparing you for college and your career by teaching you how to use them effectively yourself. However, this isn’t just about writing a beautiful essay, so read on to Tip # 5!
5. Your Argument Must be Well-Crafted.
The AP English Language and Composition Exam synthesis essay does not have right or wrong answers; rather, it asks you for your opinion. The AP Examiner cannot take points off because she disagrees with you. However, you must show logical basis for your opinion, drawing on both the sources AND your own knowledge and experience.
To do this, make sure you have a clear and complete thesis. Make sure the ideas expressed in the beginning of each paragraph or section support the thesis, and that you in turn show how those ideas are supported by a source or through your own knowledge and experience. Don’t generalize or write anything down that you can’t support.
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What is the AP English Language Synthesis Essay?
The AP English Language synthesis essay reveals that in fifty-five minutes you can create a cohesive paper with a stance that incorporates at least three sources. You must be able to both understand the material given by reading critically as well as crafting a supported argument from the sources.
The AP English Language synthesis rubric is a nine point system which determines your score on the synthesis essay. A nine is the highest score and a zero is the lowest score. Four elements of the synthesis essay make up this numbered score. These elements are the writer’s ability to take a position, his or her effectiveness in synthesizing, the effectiveness of the writer’s argument, and his or her command of the language, or prose.
The Writer’s Ability to Take a Position
When writing the synthesis essay you are expected to take a position, or a stance, on a topic. This means that you must read the given sources and formulate your opinion based on the information. By doing this you will form a thesis statement and show that you can prove a point.
A great example of taking a stance is from one student sample in 2005. This, as well as the other essays that will be examined, are from a prompt that asked the students how the media has affected the presidency and democracy in the United States. The students must utilize at least three sources in their arguments. Please feel free to read the full essays here for better understanding. This student claims, “The media’s impact on American society has done little to increase voter population and by doing so, has created a new sort of identity for the president himself.” This student is giving his or her opinion based on the prompt and presenting it in a thesis statement. This statement outlines the rest of the essay as well, making this a vital part of the AP English Language synthesis essay rubric. A student that does not take a position will not score well on the synthesis essay. One example of a poorly taken stance is the student that says, “TV has multiple effects on the president.” Here the student is not being specific enough. How the president was affected needs to be addressed. This is not an arguable statement; therefore, there is no stance taken here. By doing this, the highest score that you will be able to earn is a 2.
The AP English Language synthesis essay rubric also includes your ability to synthesize the information that you are given. The student must bring together at least three sources and his or her argument in order to receive a high score. These sources must not be merely summarized, but they must also be analyzed and utilized as a point of support within your argument.
One student example of great synthesizing is this essay sample where the student writes, “Lyndon B. Johnson, one of the first televised presidents, was a “’great believer in the public opinion polls’ (source E). Although, throughout history this has hardly been the case.” This student takes a quotation from one source, names the source, and relates it back to his or her argument. This is effective in showing the examiners that the student knows how to properly synthesize his or her arguments.
This student effectively brings together his or her ideas and the ideas expressed in the source by taking small quotes and paraphrasing. This shows sophistication in writing, which will earn you a higher score.
Without this sophistication of integrating sources effectively, you cannot expect to get any higher than a 3 on the synthesis essay. A student who does this synthesis poorly is one that says, “The evidence suggests that while television may have initially made people interested in politics, the effect is wearing off.” The student does not cite this source, showing a lack in proficiency. This student will not score well.
The Effectiveness of the Argument
The third component of the synthesis essay rubric covers the effectiveness of the student’s argument. There are multiple ways that you can have an effective argument; however, ones that the College Board focuses on are use of rhetorical devices. Some examples of rhetorical devices that are most recommended are ethos and logos. Through these elements that roughly translate into ethics and logic, the student can elevate his or her scores.
An example of ethos, or ethics, is the student properly citing the sources to build his or her credibility. One student that did this well wrote, “’In 1968 Lyndon B. Johnson spoke about the nation’s progress in Vietnam (source E)’. This means that…” The student utilized another source and properly cited where he or she got it. This builds on the effectiveness of the argument that is trying to be made.
An example of logos is a student that utilizes inductive or deductive reasoning in order to draw conclusions from the sources. This will strengthen the argument by increasing the support and linking sources logically together. This shows great synthesis as well as the ability to fortify an argument.
When a student does not support his or her argument well, this will cause the student to receive a score of a four. This is because sufficient support is needed for any claim to be made. Without a foundation to hold up the argument, your claim is useless.
Command of the Language
The last portion of the AP English Language synthesis rubric is the writer’s command over the language. This refers to the student’s ability to convey proficiency and persuasion with the language.
A great example of displaying proficiency is having grammar that is understandable to the reader. Utilizing proper grammar allows the student to appear more intelligent and dedicated to the exam. Grammar and mechanics are important, because if there are a multitude of glaring errors that distract from the argument, then the highest score possible is a two. It would be horrible to have an amazing argument and essay but receive a 2 because of grammar and mechanics.
An example of a student paper with errors that would lead to receiving a 2 is, “Demcrasy is important for presidants. Need demcrasy for better life.” These two sentences make some sense, but the fragment and the spelling mistakes are glaring and annoying to read. This will make exam graders label this essay with a 2.
Utilizing the language for persuasive purposes will enhance your argument as well, leading to a higher score. An example of a technique that can be used is parallelism. Parallel structure is utilizing the rhythmic structure of words to be more persuasive. An example of parallel structure is, “Democracy is there to protect, to persuade, and to find truth.” The writer has an advanced handle on the language, and when examiners see this they will reward the student with an extra point.
How to Cover Your Bases
In order to make sure that you have every element of the AP English Language synthesis essay covered, you want to be sure that you make an outline before writing. This will allow you to think ahead and be sure that you have all of the components needed.
Crafting your thesis is the next step. Your argument must be strong and supported with plenty of details from the sources.It is also important to note that considerable scrutiny is given to how you use the sources to make your argument more credible and logical. This thesis should state your argument as well as referring to the three points that you will make in the body. Here is a great place to use parallel structure.
The synthesis essay has a large emphasis on utilizing sources. Therefore, you will need to quickly and critically read and mark portions that support your argument. Find quotations from three different sources to use in each body paragraph in order to fulfill the rubric.
While there may not be an excess of time once you finish your essay, you are encouraged to go back and read over the essay for any glaring errors. Doing this will keep you from losing points because you were unclear. If you know that you will not have enough time to reread, then be sure to revise as you go. Allowing revision time is important, but the argument and supporting that argument is your first priority.
Reference for AP English Language Sample Essays
Reference for AP English Language Synthesis Essay Rubric
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